Friday, August 15, 2014

Engraving Facts and FAQs

Here at Powell, we are fortunate to have Weiling Zhou on staff as both a finisher and engraver.  We've seen examples of his work many times on our Facebook page and in a previous two-part post on key engraving which you can read by clicking here for Part I and here for Part II.

The engravings are truly, as flute finisher Lindsey McChord shared, "like works of art.  They are amazing.  You can have whatever you want, and they are very ornate -- really just amazing."  As she mentioned, you can bring your own design for the engraving(s), or you could choose from Weiling's large notebook of patterns.  His specialties include birds, leaves, flowers, and shells, but the possibilities go far beyond this -- such as initials and more abstract shapes and designs.

In our previous posts, we noted that if you are thinking of having engraving done on your existing flute, a good time to have the engraving done is when you send the flute in for repair.  This is especially convenient for key engraving since the keys are removed as part of the repair process.  However, you can have key, lip plate, and crown engraving done at any time. Also, if you are specifically having lip plate or crown engraving done, you can send the headjoint and/or crown in separately without the whole flute.

In addition to key, lip plate, and crown engraving, there is also an option to have the flute's rings engraved.  The ring engraving option is really best to choose when you order a new flute so the engraving can be done as the flute is being built.  This is because the rings cannot be engraved on the barrel, so to have them engraved on a flute that has already been made would require the barrel to be removed from the body, and then the rings to be removed from the barrel, and -- well, you can see why it makes more sense to request it when you place an order for a new flute!

Often times, we get questions from customers about how the engraving feels and if it will change the sound.  Lindsey mentioned that engraved keys can make things easier if the player has hands that may get sweaty and slippery.  The engraved lip plate is what gets the most inquiries, and Lindsey recently had the lip plate on her flute engraved.  She said that the lip plate doesn't really feel much different when it is engraved -- there's no really noticeable difference, and it feels normal.  "The engraving is an etching into the surface, so you aren't taking away material or creating a lumpy surface."  Lindsey did mention that she had previously used a postage stamp on her lip plate to keep it from sliding, and the engraving can actually help keep the lip plate where it needs to be.  As for sound changes, well, there are none because Weiling will not engrave on the edge of the embouchure opposite your lips (the "front" or "blowing edge").

So, if you are thinking of having your flute engraved, rest assured that the engraving will not change the sound, and you have plenty of pattern options.  To see more examples of Weiling's engraving, click the titles below to see the photo albums on our Facebook page:

New Engraved Crowns
Engraving Examples
Engraving Examples - II
White Gold "Chicago" Flute
Engraved Keys on Aurumite 14k Custom

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Headjoint "A Bit Off?"

New cork assemblies
We recently had a customer who thought something might be a bit off with her headjoint.  She would use her swabstick to check the headjoint cork position, looking to see if the mark on the swabstick was in the middle of the embouchure hole, and it just didn't seem quite right.  So, our repair technician, Rachel, took a look.  The swabstick mark was actually alright, so she didn't need the headjoint cork moved or replaced.  However, Rachel left our customer with a tip.  If you think something might be "a bit off" with the cork, play octaves.  If the octaves are in tune, everything is alright.  After all, one of the functions of the cork is to balance intonation between octaves.  We have a previous post on headjoint cork maintenance that you can read by following this link.

The customer also wanted to have her headjoint checked for fit.  She felt that it might be too loose, and sure enough, it was!  Our technician was able to fit the headjoint by expanding the tenon, and everything was good to go.  Concerned about the fit of your headjoint?  If the headjoint is turning when you play or if you are having trouble getting the headjoint into the body, you definitely should have your repair technician take a look.  Click here to read more from our previous post on headjoint fit.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tarnishing from Cloth?

Anti-tarnish shield (being applied here) can get worn away by some cloths and chemicals.
We stopped in to the repair shop this week, and our repair technician told us that she had a customer who called with a tarnishing problem.  She said the customer had used a treated polishing cloth and could not understand why her flute was tarnishing right after she polished it with the cloth.  We knew quite well that our repair technician frowns upon flutists using anything other than a plain, microfiber cloth on their flutes, so we thought this would be a good chance to find out more about the "perils" of the treated polishing cloth.

Our repair technician told us that the treated polishing cloths contain polish, and polish is abrasive.  So, if you are using a treated cloth, you will wear away the protective anti-tarnish shield that covers the flute.  Once the anti-tarnish shield is worn away, the flute is prone to tarnish faster.  So, even though the customer had just polished her flute, it was shiny -- but it was also vulnerable to tarnish faster, and that is exactly what happened!

Our repair technician tells us that tarnish is "a personal thing," and that some people have a body chemistry that makes their flutes tarnish faster, and some people have flutes that never tarnish.  However, we do know that anything that would wear away or dissolve the anti-tarnish shield is not good for your flute.  As mentioned above, polishes and cloths treated with polish are abrasive and will wear through the protective coating.  If you use alcohol on your lip plate to clean it, that is okay -- as long as you use it only on the lip plate.  Make sure never to wipe the rest of the flute with alcohol, because alcohol will dissolve the anti-tarnish shield.

If you are curious as to what the anti-tarnish shield is, we have a previous post on it, which you can read by following this link.  We realize that having a shiny flute is nice, but make sure that you are using only a plain cloth  to shine it -- and nothing that will eat through the flute's protective anti-tarnish coating.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Have Flute, Will Travel...

The NFA is just around the corner, and we know that flutists from around the globe will be flying in to Chicago.  That being said, we thought it would be a great opportunity to get our repair technician's thoughts on the best way to travel with a flute.  We all agreed that the preferred method is to hand carry your flute in a gig bag so that is on the plane with you.  Our Customer Service Manager gave us a tip from one of her customers, who always puts his flute (in its gig bag) in the overhead compartment across the aisle from his seat so that he can keep his eyes on it at all times.

However, we realize that it is not always possible to carry your flute on the plane.  We asked our technician about flutes in checked baggage, and she said it would be perfectly fine as long as the flute is well-fitted in the case.  To quote her exactly, "the case is designed to protect the flute, and as long as the flute is fitting properly, there should not be a problem."  How can you tell if it is fitting properly?  Well, you can put the flute in its case and give the closed case a shake.  If you feel or hear anything, the flute is not fitting properly.

Our technician tells us that she has seen flutes come in with cases that have "extra padding" inside the top lid to help protect the flute -- but this is definitely not what you want to do.  She has seen bubble wrap, towels, and all sorts of "padding," but this is a huge problem because the padding is pressing down on the key mechanism.  Her recommendation is to pad the case in the areas where the material would only come in contact with the flute body and never the mechanism.  So, where would that be?  It's on the "blocking" of the case, which you will see in the photos below.  If you visualize the case coming down to close, you will notice that the points of contact are not on any part of the mechanism -- only the body.

Yellow lines outline the right side of blocking.  Yellow arrows show points of contact.
Yellow line outlines left side of blocking.  Yellow arrive shows point of contact.

So, regardless of how the flute is transported (hand carried, checked), making sure that it fits properly in its case is critical.  If it does, the case will be able to "do its job" and protect the flute!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Key Noise?

Key noise is certainly a topic of interest when it comes to flute maintenance and repair.  If you've ever noticed some type of noise coming from your keys, you are not alone.  So, what is the cause of this?  Well, we asked our repair technician, Rachel Baker, and she told us it could be a number of things -- the keys hitting the tops of the tone holes, worn felts, or any number of parts of the mechanism that may be out of adjustment.  She said it really depends on the flute, and each one must be assessed individually to diagnose the key noise issue and repair the flute accordingly. 

If you do hear a noise coming from your keys, Rachel says you'll want to tell your technician exactly which notes you are playing when you hear the noise.  This is helpful because different parts of the mechanism are engaged for different notes.  Sections of the mechanism also function in very particular ways when you are changing from one note to another.  Letting your technician know which notes you are playing when the noise occurs can help him/her focus in on exactly what might be the root of the noise.

Also, one thing to keep in mind when it comes to key noise is that a certain amount of noise from the keys and mechanism are normal.  Rachel tells us that flutes are never "100% silent" when they are played, so some noise might be perfectly harmless.  However, if you do hear a noise, do not hesitate to contact your authorized repair technician.  As Rachel said, key noise may happen for a variety of reasons, and your technician will be able to determine whether the noise is something normal or if it is an indication of a problem that needs to be repaired.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Just a Little Ding...

Dented tenon
We recently heard from a private teacher whose student had "just a little ding" in her flute -- or so the student said.  When the teacher looked at the ding, she found a huge dent.  The teacher said that she had heard before that, "a dent is only bad if you can see it on the inside of the flute."  We thought that seemed to make sense, theoretically, but was it 100% accurate?  We decided to ask our repair technician, Rachel Baker.

Repairing a dented headjoint
It would certainly be handy to have a point of reference to tell if the dent in your flute is serious.  After all, small dents and dings are quite common.  When we asked Rachel if there was a way to gauge the severity of a dent, she said quite simply, "If you play the flute and everything sounds normal, feels normal, and you are playing in tune, everything is fine."  She said that dents are generally a cosmetic issue.  However, if you notice a difference in your sound and/or are struggling to play, the dent should definitely be examined by your technician.  Rachel told us that in addition to dents on the body and headjoint, posts can get dented, too.  When this occurs, the mechanism will not be functioning properly -- and it will definitely need to be repaired.  Also, dents in the tenon could affect the fit and function, so make sure to contact your repair technician if this happens. 

If an accident happens, and you get a small ding, it is quite possible that no real harm has been done.  Rachel says, "Dents are not the end of the world..."  But, just make sure to take note of how your flute sounds and feels -- if there is a difference, contact your authorized repair technician. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Spare Parts?

Recently, our repair office received a call from a music store looking to order a key for their customer's vintage Powell.  For many musical instruments, it is common practice to call the manufacturer when you need a replacement part.  However, in the case of this Powell, it was not possible for a new key to be purchased and shipped in the mail as the shop had expected.  Inconvenient as it might be, there is actually a very good reason for this...

Key cups and arms
At Powell, we make custom flutes with custom parts to fit each flute individually.  So, its not possible for us to have stock parts ready to ship.  If a key needs to be replaced, it actually has to be made by hand in the stringing department and then fitted to the flute.  That being said, this customer would have to send the flute here, and our stringers would make a new key.  And, even before the key is made, the component parts to make the key would have to be made!

After our repair technician, Rachel, explained why we could not send out a "replacement part," it seemed quite simple -- a custom flute has custom parts, and only custom parts!  It's not possible to keep stock of something custom, because it is one of a kind.  But, we started to wonder about parts for regular maintenance, like pads and shims.  So, we asked her, "What if you need a pad replaced?"  Rachel said, "Oh, pads are 'soft parts,' so they are not custom.  Only the 'hard parts' like the keys and mechanism tubing on a custom flute would need to be made."

Rachel's example of "hard parts" and "soft parts" cleared things up for us.  She says its perfectly fine to take your flute to an authorized Powell repair technician for regular maintenance like a C.O.A. (clean, oil, adjust) since only the "soft parts" like pads might need to be replaced.  Also, pads and shims are made to standard dimensions, so in that case, they are all made to meet very specific measurements and can be easily purchased by repair technicians.

Soldering arm to cup
Finished key